COMMENTARY | The New York Yankees have plenty of gaps to fill for the 2014 roster. None of them is bigger than the cavern at second base.
Robinson Cano, the Yankees' starting second baseman since 2005, is finally a free agent and he has every intention of making this contract "the big one." Cano has established his market at 10 years/$305 million as reported by ESPN.com's Buster Olney.
The Yankees have indicated that they want Cano back and that they will make a significant offer to the five-time All-Star. At issue is not whether the Yankees want Cano to stay in pinstripes, but determining if he is worth anywhere near the length and salary he is demanding.
The Yankees have some considerable cash to spend this winter, even with the impending desire to stay below MLB's $189 million luxury tax threshold set for 2014. The Bombers could have even more in the till if Alex Rodriguez's 2014 salary is wiped away by virtue of his performance-enhancing drug suspension being upheld.
Cano, who turns 31 in less than a week, wants this to be his mega free-agent deal, while the Yankees have been burned by such a contract with Rodriguez already and seem less inclined to buy into another one like it. So, while the money is important to the Yankees and they can assume a high average annual salary, they do not want to take on a deal that hamstrings them as Cano reaches his early-40s.
Cano is undeniably one of the top second baseman in the league, if not the best. But will he be worth $30 million per season in eight, nine or 10 years? The Yankees will have to decide if Cano can generate enough value at the front end of this deal to warrant overpaying at the back end.
Cano's offensive numbers over the last five seasons indicate he's a premier hitter, no matter the position. He's averaged 160 games, 627 AB, .314 AVG, 196 hits, 45 doubles, 28 home runs and 103 RBIs over the span. Cano was part of the 2009 World Series championship team and has won four Silver Slugger Awards to go along with two Gold Gloves during his career.
But Cano has yet to win an MVP Award and many point to that as one reason why he is not worth baseball's richest contract. The general conception is that Cano, while a great player, cannot and will not be able to live up to such a deal.
I tend to agree with the assessment, though I think he will last longer than others give him credit. He may not be playing a slick second base in his late-30s, though I can see Cano turning into one of the better designated hitters in the game once his abilities in the field begin to erode.
But is a DH worth $30 million?
While Cano is considered a hard worker, he does dog it at times, another reason some believe his contract stipulations are on the high side. The Yankees have lived with his sometimes lackadaisical play simply because of the numbers presented earlier.
These knocks on Cano aside, the Yankees' have a major dilemma. Despite the chance of performance erosion over time and his tendency to be "lazy," the Yankees do not have a single player of Cano's caliber set to return in 2014. He is the star of the team in terms of overall production. There isn't a solitary player in their farm system to take his spot and the market for second basemen is paper-thin. Cano's agency knows this, thus the very high starting point to the negotiations.
I concede that Cano is not worth a 10-year/$305 million contract, but I can argue he is worth close to $30 million per season over the duration of a contract. I think the Yankees can comfortably offer Cano a seven-year, $200 million contract. I'd consider adding an eighth-year option should Cano attain some lofty performance metrics during the seventh season. An eighth year would take Cano through his age-38 season. This is reasonable and fair, in my view.
Cano represents the best option at his position, the top player available on the open market and an absolute necessity for the Yankees lineup over the next few seasons. Yes, the Yankees have an issue at the catcher position, need a backup plan for shortstop, and will likely pay a handsome posting fee for the rights to negotiate a sizable deal with Japan's Masahiro Tanaka.
But Cano is the key, in my opinion. He is one player the team can build around while it makes the required changes in its farm system to develop more players of his caliber.
Robinson Cano is the most important offseason "addition" the Yankees can make, and it's not even close.
Chris Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor. He is a New York Yankees contributor published on Yahoo Sports and has previously written and edited content for several online sports publications. Chris is also the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. For more baseball and sports commentary you can follow Chris on Twitter.
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